Bubba Cunningham has continued redefining the Carolina Way.
With his hiring of new women’s basketball coach Courtney Banghart, Cunningham has reaffirmed his commitment to make UNC athletics as good as it can be, regardless of where his administrators and coaches come from.
The old “Carolina Way,” which somehow morphed from Dean Smith’s mantra to play hard, play smart and play together into arrogant and incestuous hiring policies, turned out to be an embarrassing and scoffed slogan since Smith’s retirement.
It resulted in promoting or hiring administrators and coaches whose desire to be at UNC was deemed their most important attribute, when they fell short in experience, communication skills, scruples and, most importantly, bold leadership capabilities.
Now, all things being equal, a Tar Heel born or bred should break any deadlock. But Bubba was unswayed by internal pressure to protect your own, give everyone a chance to move up and show false loyalty that was not good for the position and, for the most part, not the best move for the hires, some whose careers were stalled if not ruined by their appointments.
When the odds still seemed to favor replacing the deposed Sylvia Hatchell with a former Carolina player and/or assistant coach, Cunningham wiped the Etch-a-Sketch board clean and opened the field to all interested and qualified candidates. On the basis of Banghart’s experience, success and, most significantly, her character and contemporary leadership in this turbulent time of college athletics, Cunningham hired the person who, frankly, seems like a slam dunk.
“We were looking for absolutely the best coach we could find,” he said, “and Courtney rose to the top.”
The truth is, and a reason most Tar Heel Olympic sports teams have still thrived throughout the scandalous last eight years, Carolina and Chapel Hill are great places to be students and/or athletes. Perfect college town, alluring campus, seasonal weather; it is why alumni become so loyal.
In many ways, UNC recruits itself, so the main job of well-trained, smart and confident coaches is not to screw it up. Football may be the only exception because it has lived in the shadow of basketball. But Mack Brown had built top ten teams before leaving for Texas and, after five coaches helped drop the program out of the top 100, is back to do another rebuild.
That, too, was Cunningham’s decision, and in that case the guy with Carolina ties WAS the best choice to make. Good job, Bubba, again.